For much of this year, the prospect of Iran becoming a nuclear weapons state has been a major international concern. As members of the Utah Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, we have a perspective we'd like to share concerning the potential proliferation of nuclear weapons.
We both grew up in Utah during the Cold War, when the threat of mass annihilation was very real. As young adults we were hopeful when the Non-Proliferation Treaty was put into force in 1970. The grand bargain of the NPT was simple: Nations that did not have nuclear weapons agreed never to acquire them, while the five nuclear states, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, agreed to share the peaceful benefits of nuclear technology as they pursued the elimination of their nuclear arsenal. Making sure that both ends of this agreement are honored is essential to the long-term viability of the NPT.
Now the countries with nuclear weapons also include Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Unlike the Cold War, today our greatest national security threats come from the breakdown of the non-proliferation regime and nuclear terrorism. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, there are at least 40 other nations with the capacity to develop nuclear weapons, which brings us back to the current conflict with Iran.
Despite the censures, sanctions and embargoes, Iran continues its nuclear program claiming that it is within its rights to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and threatening to withdraw, as did North Korea, from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. If Iran withdraws from the NPT, efforts to ensure that its enriched uranium not be diverted to develop nuclear weapons would no longer be subject to oversight by the UN nuclear agency. In addition, it would bring us one step closer to another war in the Middle East.
We believe it is time to take another tack. Many of the NPT non-nuclear states believe that the nuclear-weapon states have not complied with their side of the bargain. In an attempt to reassure the non-proliferation regime, President Obama, in his Prague speech in April 2009, outlined a series of initiatives that would honor our disarmament commitment and lead to a nuclear-weapons free world. One of the first steps toward this end is putting a permanent ban on nuclear weapons testing.
Twenty years ago in 1992, President George H. W. Bush signed a moratorium on nuclear testing and other states followed. In 1996, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed, but the Senate failed to ratify it in 1999.
What if the United States surprised the world and ratified the test ban treaty? Since our experts maintain that we don't need to test nuclear weapons to keep them viable, doesn't it make sense to make this moratorium permanent? Wouldn't it go a long way in affirming our commitment to nuclear disarmament?
One thing is certain, if we continue to bolster our nuclear capabilities, no amount of persuasion or sanctions will keep non-nuclear states, particularly our political foes, from eventually acquiring these weapons of mass destruction. In contrast, if we honor our commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, we will be leading the global community towards a greater security for all.
Christine Meecham and Deb Sawyer are members of the Utah Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Both live in Salt Lake City.